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6th February 2006 17:14:00
Posted by Dave Foster

The Buster Keaton Chronicles in February

News
Network have announced the UK DVD release of The Buster Keaton Chronicles for 27th February 2006 priced at £29.99. Network is delighted to announce the release of a twenty-eight film compendium containing some of silent comedian Buster Keaton’s finest work. Keaton, part of the trio of great comedy geniuses of the non-talkie era along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd proves his indisputable talent in this six-disc set that will appeal to all fans of classic comedy movies.

Born Joseph Frank Keaton VI in October 1895, he was given the nickname Buster by legendary magician Harry Houdini after a six-month old Keaton tumbled down a flight of stairs unharmed. Keaton performed with his mother and father as a child in one of the most dangerous acts in vaudeville, which centred on how to discipline an unruly child. During the show the young Keaton would be thrown across stage and into the audience. By the age of twenty-one the act became too dangerous to perform and he progressed to movie-making, first featuring in Fatty Arbuckle’s The Butcher Boy in 1917.

Buster’s first full-length feature was The Saphead, in 1920. The comedy legend has profound things to say about man and modern life, with his comedy famous for its high-speed timing and inventiveness which have never been matched in the history of cinema. His films remain as fresh looking, modern and as wonderfully funny as when they were made and Keaton continues to prove to be the inspiration for both vintage and new wave comedy performers throughout the world.

Special features on The Buster Keaton Chronicles are:
  • 1968 documentary The Great Stone Face
  • Written introductory booklet by Edward McPherson, author of Buster Keaton, Tempest in a Flat Hat (Faber)

The twenty-eight movies in this definitive collection are as follows:

Disc One

One Week (1920) – 20 minutes
Directed by Keaton and Eddy Brine, One Week chronicles how Buster and his new bride have one week to build a house from a D.I.Y pre-fab kit before their housewarming celebration scheduled for Friday 13th. However, a rival of Keaton’s changes all the numbers of the home components.

The Saphead (1921) - 70 minutes
Directed by Brit Herbert Blache, shy Bertie Van Alstyne (Keaton) is the wealthy son of the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’. To win the heart of Agnes, Bertie consults ‘How to Win the Modern Girl’, which urges its readers to become bold. Dutifully, he does, but his father is not impressed and orders him to cut out the funny business and get a job! Bertie buys a seat on the Stock Exchange, wins Agnes and flabbergasts his father by making a killing on the market.

Convict 13 (1920) – 20 minutes
Buster escapes form Death Row in the uniform of a prison guard only to face death once more when his fellow inmates seize control of the prison and advance on the guards!

The Scarecrow (1920) - 18 minutes
What is a home without a mother? Read the sign on the wall of Buster and Big Joe’s bachelor pad – a marvellously inventive house for effortless living. A two-reel trick and slapstick farce with Buster Keaton and funny furniture.

Neighbors (1921) – 23 minutes
Two tenement lovers are separated by a high backyard fence. Buster Keaton nonchalantly performs daring acrobatic feats as he traverses clothes-lines and telephone polls to reach his beloved. This is widely recognised as one of Keaton’s funniest films.

The Haunted House (1921) – 20 minutes
Bank teller Buster spills glue on his money, gets accused of robbery and winds up in a haunted house full of spooky devices.

The Goat (1921) – 20 minutes
A mistaken identity crisis precipitates a continuously brilliant chase through adjoining towns, where Buster is taken for ‘Deadeye Dan, Public Enemy’.

The Boat (1921) – 20 minutes
Buster builds a boat called ‘The Damfino’ in his basement only to run afoul of Murphy’s Law. As he pulls the boat out of the basement, the house falls down. He then rides the boat out at harbour and it sinks. Thus begins Keaton’s hilarious adventures with the restored boat.

Disc Two

The Playhouse (1921) – 20 minutes
Buster Keaton plays every part in this brilliant comedy about a vaudeville house, including simultaneously playing all eight musicians in a minstrel show! One of the most extraordinary films of this period.

The Paleface (1921) – 22 minutes
Buster Keaton is an absent-minded butterfly-chasing entomologist who stumbles into the midst of warring Indian tribes. This is the comedy in which he retreats backwards on his hands and knees across a suspension bridge, removing the staves in front of him and placing them behind to create his own caterpillar track!

Cops (1922) – 20 minutes
A carefully orchestrated series of gags in which he plays an innocent who tries to impress his girl by attempting to become a tycoon, winding up inextricably caught in a police parade, which ends in a farce.

My Wife’s Relations (1922) – 23 minutes
A family farce with Buster as the bridegroom who tries to smooth out relations with his new in-laws. Among the many gags is a marriage bed that collapses at the most inopportune moments.

The Blacksmith (1922) – 20 minutes
Keaton is clowning around in a blacksmith’s shop until he and the smithy get into a fight, which results in the blacksmith going to jail. Buster Keaton then takes on the role of the blacksmith and invents an assembly-line operation for shoeing horses.

The Frozen North (1922) – 23 minutes
Buster Keaton uproariously lampoons the melodramas of William S. Hart, and the highly stylised and absurd conventions of Twenties Western epics. He finds himself in the frozen north, “last stop on the subway”.

The Electric House (1922) – 25 minutes
Buster designs a house with all the latest gadgets for a real estate tycoon who will buy thousands, if the model home impresses him. But during the demonstration, everything that can go wrong does – hilariously!

Day Dreams (1922) – 18 minutes
While seeking his fortune in the Big City, country bumpkin Buster Keaton tries to impress the girl back home with glowing accounts of his achievements. As she reads his letters, we see what’s really happening!

The Balloonatic (1923) – 23 minutes
Buster Keaton rises to new heights as he sails heavenward in a balloon. He bumps into clouds, and in trying to bring down a duck, punctures the gas bag and crashes in the woods where he saves Phyllis Haver from a bear and falls in love. His courtship and the ‘balloonatic’ events that follow are hilarious!

The Love Nest (1923) – 18 minutes
Love-smitten Buster Keaton bids goodbye to Virginia and women, and sails away in his boat. One incident after another leads to him taking refuge on a whaling ship, incurring the wrath of its fearsome captain.

Disc Three

The Three Ages (1923) – 60 minutes
Directed by Keaton and Edward Cline and inspired by D.W. Griffith’s ‘Intolerance’, Buster Keaton stars in this hilarious comedy in which two young men compete for the same girl in three different eras - the Stone Age, Ancient Rome, and America during Prohibition.

Our Hospitality (1923) – 70 minutes
Directed by former Keystone actor Jack Blystone and Keaton himself, the film centres on respective heads of the Canfield and McKay families as they try to settle an old score, but by killing each other, they merely perpetuate the old feud. Among the many gags is the train ride that zig-zags around obstacles, a wild chase through the mountains and a hair-raising rescue at a high waterfall.

Sherlock Junior (1924) – 45 minutes
This new spin on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective is again directed by and stars Keaton. Buster and Ward Crane are rivals for the attention of Kathryn McGuire. Ward steals her father's watch and Buster is set up as the thief. Back at his projectionist's job he dreams himself and everyone else in his life into the movie which is playing. He is now Sherlock Holmes looking for some stolen pearls and on his journey he makes some fantastic discoveries.

Disc Four

The Navigator (1924) – 63 minutes
An hilarious comedy in which Buster Keaton and his sweetheart are cast adrift on a deserted ocean liner. The ship runs aground on a desert island, where the two unfortunates are chased by cannibals.

Seven Chances (1925) – 58 minutes
Buster gets word that if he can be married by seven o’clock that evening, he will inherit $7 million. When his sweetheart refuses, he proposes to everyone in skirts, including a man in a kilt! As a last resort he advertises for a bride and is horrified to discover five hundred would-be-wives hot on his trail in a hilarious romp.

Go West (1925) – 70 minutes
Buster Keaton burlesques the Western in this comedy about a friendless drifter who befriends a cow named Brown Eyes and accompanies her on the cattle train to the stockyards. When rustlers attack, he saves her, and the two of them ride off into the sunset in the back of a motor car!

Disc Five

Battling Butler (1926) – 68 minutes
Based on the Broadway play, the story revolves around a case of mistaken identity between two Alfred Butlers – one a millionaire, the other a world heavyweight boxing champion. Coincidence brings them to the same backwoods Kentucky neighbourhood, where Butler-the-fop finds love with a mountain girl, but not before antagonising Butler-the-brute into a Madison Square Gardens grudge match.

The General (1926) – 84 minutes
This film has been voted one of the ten greatest movies of all time in a recent Sight & Sound poll and it is a master class in silent movie-making. Set during the Civil War and based on a true incident, Keaton stars as a Southern railway engineer who has only two loves in his life – his train and belle Annabelle Lee. An impressive collection of silent comedy stunt gags, Keaton gives the Union raiders quite a chase and his engine figures prominently in one of the most memorable chase scenes ever filmed for the silver screen. This feature also contains a new score by legendary composer Carl Davis previously unavailable on DVD.

College (1927) – 65 minutes
When collegiate bookworm Keaton falls for a pretty co-ed who only has eyes for jocks, he hits the playing fields in a series of wildly hilarious attempts to win her. At first he’s all thumbs, but by the end of the picture, when he hears the campus bully is forcing himself upon her, Buster jumps a pond, hurdles row after row of high bushes and pole-vaults through a second storey window of the women’s dorm to save her.

Disc Six

Steamboat Bill Jr (1928) – 67 minutes
Directed by Charles Riesner, Buster Keaton plays the son of a steamboat captain who falls in love with the daughter of a rival steamboat owner. The picture culminates with a cyclone in which a two-storey building comes crashing down with Buster, as usual, oblivious to his peril until a few seconds after he might have escaped harm’s way.

The Great Stone Face (1968) – 100 minutes
This wonderful documentary about Buster Keaton, explores his mastery of silent film comedy as a writer, director and performer. By the early Fifties, it looked as if Keaton was finished. But in 1954, in partnership with Raymond Rohauer, Buster Keaton Productions was resuscitated and his famous silent films were restored for new generations to discover and love.
About Dave Foster
Dave has been loitering the virtual halls of TDF for a decade now and the majority of that time has been spent as Editor of the Home Cinema section (formerly DVDTimes). He doesn't contribute reviews anywhere near as much as he once did (or indeed would like to) but when he does it will invariably be something in the anime or Asian film area.


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